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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Domaine de la Paleine Moderato Cantabile

France (Loire)

cabernet franc

Where to begin? What to choose? (A dégustation in the Loire can be tough!) My inclination is to start with a classic varietal, from a classic vintage, at the premises of a very well-respected domaine that showcases several different wines, each approached with thorough respect for the vines, combined with thoughtful vinification. This is Domaine de la Paleine.

Although wine has been made on this property for more than a century, it was in 2005 that the present owners Marc Vincent and his wife Laurent purchased the property. Marc Vincent, together with Patrick Nivelleau and Gérald Beaumont head up the team which produces 18 different cuvées from 37 hectares. All the vines are within 10 minutes of the domaine, which is situated in the village of Le Puy-Notre-Dame.

Saumur-Puy-Notre-Dame for red wine is in fact a very recent appellation, approved only in late 2009, after 35 years of lobbying. It covers 64 hectares, with 23 winemakers. Domaine de la Paleine has the largest individual parcel, at 9 hectares.

It is the good-humoured, thoroughly knowledgeable Gérald Beaumont (a very fine ambassador of Loire wines) who leads a tour of the domaine. We start with a demonstration at the labelling machine, where the newest rosé brut in all its sparkling shine is coming through. In the expert hands of the woman who normally feeds the machine that would mean 600 bottles an hour. (My speed pales miserably in comparison.) Besides the brut both white and rosé, Paleine offers a very fine crémant.

The domaine’s annual production is approximately 120,000 bottles, mostly cabernet franc and chenin blanc, as well as a little chardonnay and ‘grolleau’. A look at the vines bordering the production facilities indicates what an unusually warm spring it has been. With the recent rain, growth is weeks aheads and the cause of some concern.

A tour of the spotless chai (renovated entirely in 2005) reveals state-of-the-art equipment. With such a broad range of cuvées being produced, it is essential that production proceed efficiently. Large thermo-regulated tanks give way to rows of barrels of new French oak. (The domaine’s affable dog, Blackberry, has become an integral part of our visit.)

It is in the cave (extending 1.5 km under the ‘tuffeau’) that the old meets the new. Underground caves and tunnels are found through much of the Loire Valley, the result of centuries of quarrying the truffeau, the sedimentary limestone, the build-up of the shells of sea creatures from what once was ocean floor. With a constant temperature of 12° C and high humidity they make ideal storage areas for the maturing wines.

When we finally reach the fashionable new tasting room it is decision time. Of the line-up of reds (all of which are attractive, each bearing distinctive qualities) it comes down to a unique 2005 offering, a second pressing of the grapes used in the bottling of one of the domaine’s other premier reds, Moulin des Quints. Thirty days’ maceration, two years in 215-litre French oak. It is cabernet franc unlike any I have experienced before.

Domaine de la Paleine Moderato Cantabile 2005

Very dark inky red, concentrated aromas of black cherry edged in dark chocolate. A purposeful wine that in the intensity of its fruit reminds me of wines from the south of France, particularly Cahors. It stretches the limits of cabernet franc. Its 15.5% alcohol level doesn’t overpower the wine, rather there is a well-managed balance of acidity and tannic structure. The oak influence, while there, keeps a respectful distance. It’s a powerful wine with a great deal of character. One to savour, its impression generous and long lasting.

Blackberry has heard it all before no doubt, and remains cool as we head now into a tasting of the whites. With the sparkling wines to follow. Santé!


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